On June 5, 1983, mere months after a car accident in France ended my career as professional athlete, I wrote this letter to my grandpa Coach ‘Mac’ Ralph McKinzie. a beloved college coach.
Today, I can address this same letter to my dad, who influenced just as many high school athletes as my grandpa did at the university level.
Dear Coach Mac,
I want to wish you a Happy Father’s Day, not as your granddaughter but as an athlete. Though I never had the opportunity to play football on your team (football is forbidden for girls, even tomboy girls) I still look to you as an example. As an athlete I know the impact you had as a coach, but as a woman I can express emotions more openly than a man. Today I am writing on behalf of all the boys you fathered on the football field who would wish you a Happy Dad’s Day if they could find the words.
In our society men are not allowed to show feelings; it is uncharacteristic of the American male, especially husky football players, to write thank you letters, so you’ll never realize the number of lives you touched. Your influence on one boy, Ronald Reagan, who became President of the United States, is probably the most outstanding example of the far-reaching effects of your coaching. Many men, less acclaimed perhaps, but equally important, are fathering children and becoming productive citizens because of the impact you had as a coach, developing character. Many continue to hurdle life’s hardships because of the never-give-up attitude you instilled on McKinzie Field.
I am one of those former athletes. I never endured the duck walk, but I know enough of your coaching philosophies to have that iron will ingrained, a will that kept me alive this year. After the accident I thought I would never get out of bed, days passed from minute to minute enduring pain. When walking from one room to another seemed insurmountable, you were my inspiration. I thought of you pacing the football field. Not all your former athletes will have suffered the same trials as I, but each will have endured hard times, drawing on the strength you helped them develop off the field.
Since I can no longer compete, I feel useless. Again I look to you and see how you are still coaching, influencing lives even at the age of 89. So I think I will try to follow your example as a coach. Unfortunately, in organized sports today, coaches often must focus more on winning championships than on shaping individuals. However I intend to follow your philosophy and be a coach of life.
Perhaps you too are weary from life’s aches and pains. Many mornings you, a man that once kicked 50-yard field goals, has trouble pulling on his socks. Like me you wonder what your purpose is here now. But your very existence continues to be an inspiration to us all. Thanks Coach from all your athletes.
My grandpa officially retired from coaching in 1962, and then was called back to the game a year later. My father retired from coaching boy’s football and basketball only to return to coaching girl’s basketball in the infancy of Title IX.
Looking back my letter reads like a prophecy; I went on to coach and teach internationally for 33 years. Together grandfather, father, and daughter have dedicated nearly a century and half to helping shape kids on the playing fields. Only days after my grandfather died in 1990, our son was born. Today that young man, Coach Mac’s great grandson, has become the fourth generation to go into teaching and coaching.
I think that is what you call a legacy.